Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Identity Crisis

At last week’s Economic Summit, Cicero Booker mentioned something about a certain city status or ranking that he felt Waterbury should have because it would be beneficial to Waterbury. It wasn’t clear to me what he was talking about (partly because he wasn’t sure of the acronym), but the gist was that this status is reserved for city’s with a population of 500,000 or more; Booker suggested we petition to gain this status, even though our population is under 110,000.

On numerous occasions, I’ve heard and read descriptions of Providence, RI as a role model for what Waterbury’s development could be. Providence’s population is 60% larger than Waterbury’s. Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island, as well as the state’s largest city. It does not seem comparable to me.

Brass City Records used to have (maybe still has?) a sign in their window calling themselves a college music store in a grammar school town (or something similar to that... I can’t remember the exact quote). It captured some of the essence of Waterbury—there’s plenty to do if you’re under 12, and almost nothing to do if you’re 20.

Two years ago, one of the city’s bus drivers was quoted in the newspaper, describing Waterbury as a “country city.” I thought it was an excellent description.

Waterbury is a small city composed largely of residential neighborhoods designed very much like suburbs. One of the great things about Waterbury is that it has all of the classic features of a town, but is large enough that you don’t ever have to leave town or own a car to get what you need (with some exceptions).

I think the best way for Waterbury to succeed is to build on our assets, rather than attempting to be something we’re not. We don’t have a population of 500,000, so we shouldn’t waste time wishing we were. If we’re looking for success models, let’s look at cities our own size, not ones that are significantly larger.

Waterbury’s brass industry was established and flourished early on because of our assets: numerous streams running down steep hills, creating power to run the mills; and a convenient location at the intersection of the main road running east-west across the state and the road running along the Naugatuck River to the Housatonic River in Derby, which provided access to shipping routes.

Our assets today: that same convenient transportation convergence (greatly modernized, of course); our pleasant town-like residential neighborhood qualities; and the incredible diversity of our population.

Let’s focus on our assets and build from the ground up.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Walk in the Snow

I took a break from work this afternoon and went for a walk into downtown with my camera.

One of the great things about Waterbury is that the buses still run even when the weather and roads are a mess. One of the bad things is that most bus stops don't have any form of shelter.

The Waterbury Arts Magnet School main entrance, as viewed from the parking garage. In times past, the main entrance would have been located facing the street, but now, in the 21st century, there's a prevailing mentality of everyone being able to park as close to the front door as possible (no wonder so many people are overweight... nobody wants to walk more than two minutes at a time!). Okay, in fairness, it makes sense for the WAMS students to have a semi-private entrance.

Walnut Street. Not only can you see how messy the roads were today, but you can also see wobbly tire tracks from cars sliding up and down the hill. The car in the foreground smacked into the curb on the wrong side of the road a few seconds after I took the photo. Luckily for me, they got maybe 70 feet past me before impact. Over the course of my walk, I saw several cars slide into curbs as they tried to negotiate a turn in the road, even though they were all traveling at a snail's pace.

Wood Street. Most people went outside to shovel at least three times over the course of the day.

The Soldiers' Monument in front of the Green, with the Mattatuck Museum and YMCA in the background.

Poor Ben Franklin looks like he's freezing.

Christopher Columbus wears his snowy mantle a little better:

I can't do a photo album of Waterbury without the clock tower.

The eateries on Grand Street were all closed (except for Subway)....

...while the eateries on East Main Street, from the Golden Wok to City Hall Cafe, were pretty much all open. I'm just guessing, but I think the East Main Street restaurants (not including City Hall) rely on downtown residents for their business, while Grand Street seems to be favored more by office workers (I could be entirely wrong about this).

Looking towards St. Mary's Hospital and downtown from Walnut Street. Normally you can see much further into the distance. It seems like there is always a pedestrian crossing at this location, between the Walnut Street Market and High Street.

I saw a lot of family groups out for a walk. Mostly fathers and sons, so maybe it's a guy thing.

Exchange Place, full of pedestrians and cars.

Another shot of the Green:

To those of you who now live in warmer climates: aren't you glad you moved? 

To those of us still living here: I hope you love the snow as much as I do!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

If only I had a better lens... but how often do I take photos of the moon?

These shots are roughly 15 minutes apart (except I seem to have left one out), taken between 8:45pm and 9:59pm tonight.

Economic "Feel-Good" Summit

I went to last night's economic summit expecting to hear a discussion of the many issues that concern Waterbury's business people and residents. Since the summit was created in response to the chaos and communication problems that ensued over the health clinic move to Bank Street, I assumed this was going to be an opportunity for everyone to get together and communicate. Instead, we were subjected to more than an hour of long-winded speeches telling us things we already know about what WDC does, what Main Street does, and what the City does for economic development. We were also had to listen to Rowland give his rah-rah speech, broken up into three or four segments, but otherwise nearly identical to the same speeches he's been giving on Ed Flynn's radio program.

Last night's summit was a fantastic gathering of many of Waterbury's best: people who work and live in the city and do what they can to make this city great, and they had to sit idle for more than an hour of pointless speeches. I almost left out of boredom. When the audience was finally able to speak, I think many of us had given up on being able to have our voices heard. There were still many people who did get up to share their thoughts, but it seemed almost pointless to me. I did not feel that the panelists were there to listen; they were there to convince us that they know what's best for the city. The paper reported that Jim Smith thought the summit was a success--that just shows he is completely out of touch with what's going on in this city.

Over the course of that hour plus, we were presented with only one piece of new information. The mayor has decided to create a task force to get things done. He did his best to present this in a positive light, but it really doesn't hold up well.

The mayor gave no indication as to who will sit on the task force. For the city's sake, I hope the committee members are all city residents or business owners, and that they represent the full range of people in this city. If the task force looks like the panel at last night's meeting (a long row of aging white men in pricey suits), it will receive very little respect.

This new economic committee will be charged with "getting things done" and telling WDC, the Chamber, Main Street and other groups what to do. I can't help wondering if the mayor doesn't understand that Main Street is a volunteer, grassroots organization. I can't imagine the Downtown Merchants taking kindly to being told what to do either. WDC already has a board of directors telling it what to do--why do they need a second group to direct them?

I suppose it boils down to the subtle message that the city's current economic developers have failed (I'm not saying I agree with this). Instead of replacing presumably incompetent staff with people who can get the job done right, the mayor is going to appoint a committee to run the city. Who is the task force accountable to? What do they base their decisions on?

I'm sure it's safe to assume that Rowland will be on the task force. I hope he starts doing research before making actions. Every time I've heard him speak in the past two weeks, he has talked about his vision of UConn students living in downtown apartments. The first time I heard him talk about this, he first said that he made UConn a success by moving it downtown (and here I thought the school's teachers and administrators made it a success....), and that he had envisioned converting the upper floors of the YMCA to college apartments. In subsequent versions of this talk, he has taken out the details and merely said that he thinks having UConn students rent apartments downtown would be a great tool for revitalization. I can only assume he's thinking of a fantasy land in which college students are wealthy and well-behaved tenants. Based on my interactions with UConn-Waterbury students, I'd say the vast majority are living with their parents because they can't afford to live on their own. They are already working as much as they can to pay their tuition. If any of them did get apartments, they would rent the cheapest apartments and have as many roommates as they could fit. College students living on their own also have a tendency to trash their apartments.

I suppose Rowland's college dream would work if a building were converted to dormitories, funded through UConn, with full university supervision and regulation. But it would require UConn to find new funds for branch campus housing.

After listening to all the speeches last night, I'd say the officials in charge are still at the dream stage--if you built it, they will come mentality. If we create market rate housing, all of a sudden the downtown will be full of residents with disposable incomes. Where are all of these new residents going to come from? If they are coming from within the city, all we're doing is emptying out apartments elsewhere. The only way we'll be able to entice people from outside Waterbury to move downtown is with a serious marketing strategy. Before buying a house, I tried to find a good apartment downtown, but there was no way to search for one, other than walking the streets, looking for signs in windows. The apartment owners need to work together, possibly with a realtor, to market downtown living, as a destination, not just an amenity.

There were several other issues brought up, like parking. I have yet to experience any problems parking downtown, and I've been doing it for eleven years. I have never been unable to find a parking space, and, when I park in the ramparage, it adds maybe five minutes to my overall travel time. There was a man last night who said parking in the ramparage added 30 minutes to his visits downtown--I have no idea what he's talking about. It takes me ten minutes to walk anywhere downtown. Walking from Willow Street to City Hall Cafe might take 25 minutes at most. I wish I had thought to say that last night, but my mind wasn't quick enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Waterbury's Early Catholic Buildings

The first Catholic mass in Waterbury is believed to have been held in the home of Cornelius Donnelly, celebrated by Rev. James T. McDermott, before 1837. From 1837 to 1847, Waterbury’s Catholic priest was Rev. James Smyth, first pastor of St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, and one of only two priests in the entire state. Cornelius Donnelly’s employer threatened to fire him if he housed Father Smyth. Waterbury’s early Catholics instead gathered for mass in the home of Michael Neville on East Main Street.

In 1845, Dr. Jesse Porter agreed to allow the Catholics to meet in Washington Hall, a building he owned downtown (at the corner of Exchange Place and West Main Street, where Bank of America is now). Two years later, in 1847, Waterbury’s Catholics purchased an empty lot on the corner of East Main and Dublin Streets. The former Episcopal church (St. John’s) was purchased with the intention of relocating it to the East Main Street lot. However, when the building had been moved as far as the current location of St. Patrick’s Hall on East Main Street, the contractor found himself unable to transport the building up the slight hill of East Main. The lot where St. Patrick’s Hall is today was quickly purchased and became the home of the first Catholic church in Waterbury.

Waterbury’s first resident Catholic pastor, Rev. Michael O’Neile, arrived in October of 1847. He placed the new church under the patronage of St. Peter.

There was a fire in the church during services on December 29, 1854, but it did not destroy the building. The pastor, members of the congregation, and Waterbury firemen swiftly brought the fire under control. Services continued to be held in the building until 1859. Construction of the city’s first Immaculate Conception church began in 1857. Anderson’s History of the Town and City of Waterbury speculates that this may have been the first Immaculate Conception church in the entire country.

St. Patrick’s Chapel had previously been the Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the corner of East Main Street and Phoenix Avenue. The building had been sold to the neighboring Immaculate Conception parish in 1876, at which point it became St. Patrick’s Chapel. The building was sold to Irving G. Platt in 1887, who tore it down and replaced it with the commercial and residential building still standing at that corner.

St. Peter’s church, on East Main Street, had been used as a public school after the construction of Immaculate Conception and was torn down in 1888, to be replaced by St. Patrick’s Hall (see earlier post).

East Main Street

Okay, so this really is a shameless post of self-promotion, but my art career won't go anywhere if I don't market my paintings. Here is a slightly-blurry photo of my newly finished oil painting (18x24 inches). Feel free to make an offer (waterburygirl at gmail.com).

And here are a couple of detail shots:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Collection Agency

I just had a lovely chat with someone who works at Northstar Technologies, a collection agency based in Oklahoma. They're looking for Tatianna Tatenchenko (that's my phonetic spelling of the last name, which they couldn't pronounce; I suppose it could be Tatianna Tanchenko). I didn't ask which creditor she had bilked this time, but he said they took the account in October. I explained that Tatianna also goes by the name Tabitha Hollister and that she's been using my phone number on her credit card and bank account applications for many years now. The nice man at the collection agency was concerned about the frustration I must be feeling, but I assured him that this is now really very amusing. I'm fascinated by the way she lives her life.

The man at Northstar promised me that they would never call me again, which got me thinking. First, while I'm grateful that they believe my word, how do they know I'm not Tabitha/Tatianna? After all, if I were running the sort of scam she runs, I certainly would never identify myself to a collection agency. Second, what happens if I'm ever so delinquent with a bill that it gets sent to this collection agency? Have I just been exempted from the phone calls for all of eternity? Hopefully, I will never be that delinquent.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Nomenclature Clarification

For several years, the building to the east of the Palace Theater on East Main Street has been referred to as the "Rectory Building." I haven't really paid close attention to this name, but every time I heard it, I thought something didn't sound right. In the past week, I heard and seen it called the Rectory Building at least twice, most recently in today's newspaper, and I've finally realized why this naming bothers me: the building is not, and never has been, a rectory. In fact, calling it a rectory does a disservice to the building's rich history. A rectory is the home of the rector, or priest. The building on East Main Street, as far as I know, never served that function.

The building on East Main Street (as seen above in an illustration from Anderson's History of Waterbury, published 1896) is correctly referred to as St. Patrick's Hall. It was built on one of the first property lots to be owned by Waterbury's Roman Catholics, who purchased the site from entrepreneur Elizur Prichard in 1847. Waterbury's first Roman Catholic church (St. Patrick's Chapel--darn typos! the name was St. Peter's, not St. Patrick's--my thanks to Joseph P. Nolan for catching the mistake) stood on the lot from 1847 until 1866. The Chapel was replaced by Waterbury's first Immaculate Conception Church, built on the opposite side of the street (where UConn is today). The old St. Patrick's (St. Peter's!) chapel became a public school, until it was replaced in 1889 with St. Patrick's Hall.

St. Patrick's Hall, Waterbury's best and possibly only [Correction, 2/4/08--there is at least one other, on Bank Street, across from the parking garage] example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, was built under the leadership of Rev. John A. Mulcahy, an Irish-born priest who came to Waterbury in 1886. The Hall contained the parish's Sunday School, as well as a library and reading room, meeting rooms for Catholic and social organizations, a gymnasium and a large hall for lectures and entertainment. It signaled the emergence of Roman Catholics as respected members of the community--forty years earlier, the parish had struggled to overcome anti-Catholic prejudices in Waterbury.

St. Patrick's Hall is both an architectural gem and an important monument to Waterbury's Catholic history, but it is not a Rectory.